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June 1995 - Issue No. #19 (p. 17)
A student walks into my office for a routine academic advising session. At the end of the session, however, he lowers his voice and says, "Can I talk to you about something personal?" I close the office door, and the student begins to tell me about how a friend from his native country, sexually active, may have gotten someone in the U.S. pregnant. Teachers, as counselors, are often faced with situations such as the one described, yet talking about matters related to human sexuality can often be embarrassing for both teachers and students. Discussing such matters in the intimacy of the one-on-one conference may be uncomfortable enough, but given certain classroom situations, it may well nigh be impossible, as the cultural mores of a society (often related to predominant religious teachings within the culture) may preclude such discussion.
Still, because of the reality of the world situation today, it is imperative that accurate information on topics such as sexuality, birth control, and diseases such as AIDS be disseminated among students of English as a second/foreign language. So important is AIDS education, in fact, that TESOL has established a task force on AIDS education throughout the world, and TESOL has called for AIDS education through content-based ESOL instruction.
At the Institute for the Study of American Language and Culture, an intensive English program which every semester enrolls 80-90 international students, instructors were aware of the need for sex education. After, for example, a college nurse made a short presentation on birth control in a research skills class for advanced students, she was quite shocked at the lack of knowledge among the students about fundamental aspects of sexuality, reproduction, and birth control. If, as students have reported, there is little, if any, sex education provided in their own countries, it was incumbent upon the faculty at the language institute to develop a means of getting information to students in a non-threatening, non-confrontational manner.
In response to the need for disseminating information to our students, faculty at the language institute developed workshops on dating, birth control, and sexually transmitted diseases that were made available to students in a woman-to-woman and man-to-man format. Using regular class time set aside for the two-hour workshops, and giving students the option of attending or not attending them, two male instructors conducted a workshop for the male students, while two female instructors presented a workshop for the female students. Although slightly different in terms of emphases, both workshops used similar formats: (1) brief clips from an orientation video produced for international students by the University of Oregon -- which attempts to cover aspects of dating behavior, personal risk (e.g., rape), and harassment -- followed by discussions about responsibility, risk and behavior as influenced by cultural values and stereotypes; (2) a more clinical discussion and demonstration of the types of birth control devices available, as well as a discussion of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS. (We found AIDS to be the topic which stimulated the greatest interest and discussion among the students.)
Over 80% of the students attended the first workshop presented, and an overwhelming number of students (even the few with concerns about specific aspects of the presentations) agreed that the workshops were useful and that they should be repeated in the future. Such workshops provide an opportunity for faculty to present in a positive, non-threatening way, information vital to all students but which may not be as effectively disseminated via the traditional classroom setting.
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